United Fresh sustainability tool draws attention

09/12/2013 02:46:00 PM
Tom Karst

“There is probably room for both, but we don’t want to make people think they have to follow a hard metric at this stage,” Gilmer said.

Though the Bayer grant has ended, Gilmer said he expects the sustainability tool will be revised.

“We are going to come out version 1.5 maybe next year,” he said.

Rodoni said she hopes the current document can be put in digital form so that it can be more easily shared with buyers that might ask for it. Eventually, Rodoni believes metrics might be useful in helping to support the practices-based assessment.

The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops — launched in 2008 — developed sustainability measures for water, energy, soil and nutrients used in crop production.

“While SISC recognizes the importance of best practices, that is not our focus,” Krysten Hommel, spokeswoman for the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, said in a e-mail.

The index focuses on input from growers, buyers and public interest to develop and share a data-driven system for measuring on-farm performance, she said.

Hommel said developers of the Stewardship Index believe the industry will adopt a system that offers the supply chain a consistency to assessing and communicating stewardship in the production of specialty crops.

Rodoni said both the United Fresh guide and the Stewardship Index are great tools for the industry.

“There is a need for growers to be able to carry on a conversation with their supply chain partners about what they are doing in terms of improving and tracking sustainability,” said John Keeling, chief executive officer of the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C.

“Being able to measure outcomes is a valuable way to communicate if a grower can say he reduced his energy input, for example, by so much over time,” he said.

At the same time, practices are the language growers speak.

“In the end, we are going to talk to growers about practices and we are going to want for growers to think through practices and at the same time measure outcomes because that is a real clear way to talk about it,” he said. “I don’t see it being an either/or thing,” he said.

Keeling predicts it will be an evolutionary process.

“We’re not going to design the perfect mousetrap on this thing today, tomorrow or into the near future,” he said. “I would hope that we take the best of all these options and go together in a form that is most useful to growers and most informative to the supply chain,” he said.

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